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The general objective of the Master of Science programme in ‘Physical Land Resources’ is to train experts who, in their future careers carrying due responsibility, are expected to be able to answer questions such as: what is a soil; which factors and properties determine the soil suitability to be used for both agricultural and non-agricultural purposes and how is this established; how can the soil be improved to suit specific applications; how to address problems of degradation and desertification; how to manage the land and how to protect it; what is the impact of the soil factor in the dynamics of natural eco systems and how can this knowledge be applied in the area of nature conservation; what does the soil teach us about current environmental issues; how can the soil and water management be improved in the frame of sustainable agriculture; how can we manage our scarce water supplies.
Soils are a principal determinant of eco systems and as such are an essential cornerstone of human life and prosperity. Increasing population pressure and grave erosion-, pollution and desertification issues are threatening this natural resource - already a scarce commodity in many countries - resulting in competition between agricultural and industrial purposes, urban planning and nature conservation. To ensure a wise use and management of this ‘basic commodity’, society requires expertly trained specialists with an in-depth knowledge of the properties and characteristics of ‘Physical Land Resources’, with a due understanding of the factors and interventions capable of maintaining or changing the status and value of these natural resources.
There are two Main Subjects: Physical Land Resources - Main Subject Soil Science (Ghent University) Physical Land Resources - Main Subject Land Resources Engineering (VUB)
The objective of the Main Subject ‘Soil Science’ is to train researchers, policymakers and academic staff who are specialists in compiling an inventory and putting forward a detailed character profile of the land potential, with an emphasis on soils, and in the study of the evolution of soils under natural and/or human-impacted conditions. Amongst other things, this fundamental knowledge is required to enable a morally responsible modification of existing technologies or the development of new technologies, geared to the singularity of specific development areas. In addition, this training programme is intended to cater to the necessary background expertise which is to enable graduates to contribute to the sustainable use and integrated management of land and water and the optimisation of various forms of land use (and of their physical, ecological and social properties) with a view to long-term perspectives. In a concrete sense, this explains the need for university-trained, poly-technical executives with due people management skills who are capable of plotting the land, using field survey, map and laboratory data, including satellite and remote sensing information, and/or to make an assessment on the basis of these and other (ecological) data, as part of assignments or projects in connection with outlining land use, land development and land planning, measures for soil conservation, and such like.
The Main Subject ‘Land Resources Engineering’ is designed to train scientific researchers and executive staff in non-agricultural applications of land, such as geotechnical aspects (including the use of land as construction and foundation material and the stability of taluses and excavations), the role of soil and groundwater in water resources management and water supplies, and of land management in relation to other environmental and land use aspects (including erosion, sediment transport, coastal development and coastal protection, etc.).
The graduate of the Master of Science in Physical Land Resources has the knowledge and skills which enable him to start and build successfully a career as scientist specialised in either Soil Science or Land Resources Engineering in a professional way. The graduate can formulate hypotheses and design experiments to test them, report results and findings to both his peers and to a general public. He can think analytically, synthetically and in a problem solving way, is creative, and can work both autonomously and in team. The graduate can apply his knowledge as required for the overall development policy of his country, and can function in basic as well as in applied research at universities, research institutions and (other) government or private institutions and companies.
Concerning the professional minimum demands, the graduate, regardless of the Main Subject he has chosen: (a) has acquired a broad knowledge at an advanced level in basic disciplines and techniques that provide a polyvalent scientific understanding (soil physics, soil chemistry, soil mineralogy, soil prospection and classification, applied statistics, meteorology and climatology, land information systems); (b) has the basics to conduct field work (soil survey, soil profile description, soil classification), use existing cartographic and remote sensing data, and interpret analysed data, which is the basis for regional planning, land evaluation etc.; (c) can characterise soil physically, chemically and mineralogically with advanced techniques, translate this to soil quality and assess the influences by and on natural and anthropogenic factors.
In addition to this, the graduate has acquired an in-depth knowledge and scientific experience in one of the two Main Subjects.
The graduate of the Main Subject Soil Science (a) can deduct information from the characterisation of soil material and its environment about soil forming processes, in particular for tropical (humid and dry) areas and is competent in interpreting the data in relation to the soil and the regolith as part of the ecosystem both in time and space; (b) can scientifically study the abiotic aspects of soil and water management, and has knowledge of agricultural engineering systems and of techniques; (c) is knowledgeable about soil and methods to evaluate the soil and its components (solid soil parts, soil fluids, soil air) for multiple applications;(d) has the competence to recognize the impact of technical interventions and measures in the frame of soil and land management both in the short and in the long term, and to understand, assess and interpret it; (e) has the competence to use modern equipment, informatics and computer technology to inventory soil or land and to model abiotic processes.
The graduate of the Main Subject in Land Resources Engineering combines applied scientific knowledge and advanced technical competence in non-agricultural aspects of soil management, and in particular: (a) can use GIS and earth observation techniques to digitally inventory and process soil data and landscape characteristics; (b) has acquired the basic knowledge in geo-techniques with special reference to practical applications of soil as building and foundation material, and to the stability of slopes and excavations; (c) can use field, physical and chemical techniques to study and describe soil and regolith layers; (d) has knowledge about the interactions between soil and groundwater in relation to environment management and land use; (e) has insight in the processes which influence soil and landscape stability, is acquainted with and can design possible measures for management and remediation.
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In the context of this programme, the following academic plans are offered:
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